Friday, February 11, 2005

Giambi, Canseco & Howard Bryant 

Jason Giambi finally met with the media today, almost two and a half months after the San Francisco Chronicle published the leaked BALCO grand jury testimony in which he confessed to using steroids during the 2001-2003 seasons. For those with the technology to do so, you can find the video of the press conference here.

As expected, Giambi made a general apology to the media, fans, his team and his teammates (in that order), but did not address the contents of his grand jury testimony other than to say that he told the grand jury the truth. He did not once use the word "steroids" or any synonym or euphemism for steroids and frequently avoided questions by saying that he was legally unable to comment right now, but hopefully will be able to address specifics in the future.

Overall, it was a strong performance. Giambi sat in a chair, but not behind a table, on a small stage in front of a navy Yankee backdrop with his agent, Joe Torre, and Brian Cashman surrounding him. He sounded remorseful but upbeat and eager to make up for his admitted mistakes with his performance on the field. He made no attempt to downplay the severity of his transgressions and repeatedly asserted his desire to take full responsibility for his actions.

The one curious moment came when Giambi was confronted with the allegations about his steroid use that are reportedly in Jose Canseco's tell-all Juiced. This will work best if I just transcribe it:
Reporter: Do you care to address Jose Canseco's allegations in his new book Juiced that you were seen using steroids?

Giambi: I feel sad for Josie, some of 'em, they're so far fetched they're not even funny. I think I saw a quote today from Josie's agent saying that some of the things that he said in his book are not accurate and I think when it all comes down to it I think you're going to find a lot of errors in his book.


Second Reporter: One of the allegations in the book was that you, McGwire and Canseco did steroids together. Your comment?

G: It's so far fetched I'm not even going to comment on it. Like I said there's going to be a lot of things in that book that are gonna be errors, you know, that are going to come out and they're going to be totally false.

SR: Is that false?

G: Yes.
I find this curious because part of Giambi's current problem is that the revelations about his steroid use came after his repeated and explicit denials of any such use. Thus the stakes of this explicit denial are higher. The possible realities are these:

1) Giambi's lying, meaning in his moment of conciliation, he has again broken the public trust.
2) Giambi's telling the truth, but by technicality (he injected steroids with one, but not both of the other players in the question posed to him, or he did do steroids when with the A's in 1997, the only year he and Canseco were teammates, but did them alone).
3) Giambi's telling the truth and Canseco's allegations are false.

On some level I find these all equally plausible. The first would obviously be the worst situation for Giambi, who would have done irreparable harm to whatever credibility he has left should the truth come out. The second is actually very likely, as the Daily News article which broke the Canseco allegations makes no mention of all three players juicing up together, only of McGwire doing so with Canseco and Giambi separately. However, the possibility with the most significant ramifications is the third. What if Jose Canseco really is making things up? I find it difficult to believe that he'd have to, but desperate men resort to desperate measures, and Canseco is very clearly a desperate man.

In this dead period between the signing of the last big-name free agent and the arrival of pitchers and catchers, Canseco's book has become the hot topic, prompting denials from implicated players and a call for investigation from the family of the late, and now former home run king Roger Maris. The Daily News leak has prompted Canseco's publisher to move the book's publication date up yet again to Monday, and in turn "60 Minutes" has moved up their piece on the book to this coming Sunday.

It's all the sort of ugly mess I would usually work to avoid in the interest of bringing you hard facts and analysis amid a maelstrom of allegations and innuendo, but I want you to watch that piece on "60 Minutes" this Sunday, not for Canseco, but for Howard Bryant.

The author of the outstanding Shut Out on the institutionalized racism of the Boston Red Sox, Howard Bryant is currently writing what should prove to be the definitive history of what's become known as "the Juiced Era," a book that you're sure to hear about when it hits the shelves this fall, and one that I just happen to be editing (my heretofore unrevealed day job). Bryant was interviewed for Sunday's "60 Minutes" piece and stands to be the voice of reason amid the shady confessions of Canseco. Working closely with Bryant on his book for several months now and in constant contact with him, I can honestly tell you that he has this topic covered like no one else. You will not only want to read his book when it comes out, but as a baseball fan passionate enough to read this blog, you will have to. On Sunday, you may very well get a preview of why.

posted by Cliff at 2:11 AM

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Buddy Groom and company (NRIs part II) 

Wasn't I supposed to be breaking down the Yankee NRIs some time last week? Sorry about that. My plan was to move from the outfield to the infield, but as the Yankees signed veteran LOOGY Buddy Groom to a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation to spring training on Monday, let's skip over to the pitchers.

To begin with, the Yankees are up to their necks in live bodies in the pitching department. They have 12 men signed to major league contracts (Johnson, Mussina, Brown, Pavano, Wright, Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Rodriguez, Stanton, Karsay, and Sturtze), eleven more men on the 40-man (Bean, Marsonek, Prinz, Proctor, Wang, Ramirez, Graman, DePaula, Anderson, Henn and Edwardo Sierra), and now five non-roster invitees. That makes 28 pitchers due to report to camp one week from tomorrow, four more than last year. Of those 28 pitchers, six are left-handed, two from each group. Here's a breakdown of the lefties, with the righty NRIs to follow:

Major Leaguers:

Randy Johnson until Johan Santana proves he can do it twice (which I don't doubt that he can) Johnson remains the best pitcher in all of baseball. As long as his knee holds up (which I expect it to do), he'll give the Yankees 250 incredible innings. That said, he will only pitch once every fifth day, thus making his left-handedness irrelevant in terms of in-game strategy. Those other four days the Yankees will need someone who can retire a big lefty bat in a crucial game situation. The candidates are:

Mike Stanton despite being the lefty set-up man for the Yankees from 1997-2002, Stanton has always been a reverse-split lefty. The reason he was so useful for the Yanks during his first term in pinstripes is that he was just plain good (remember, kids, good pitching is more important than lefty pitching). He's not quite s'good anymore, what with his 38th birthday coming in June, something that's best reflected in his K and BB rates:

with Yanks: 8.18 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 2.48 K/BB
with Mets: 6.77 K/9, 3.83 BB/9, 1.77 K/BB

He's no slouch either, but he's not going to dominate anymore, and thus can't be used as a lefty killer simply because of the arm he throws with. Rather, Joe Torre should make it a point to use him primarily against righties and go with a top dog such as Tom Gordon against must-have lefties should a true LOOGY fail to emerge.

By the way, you may have read elsewhere that righty Felix Rodriguez could be used as a lefty-killer as he had a pronounced reverse split last year. Of course, if one digs deeper one will find that he also had a significant normal split in 2002, with 2003 being very close to even (though slightly reversed). Then again, Stanton had a pronounced normal split in 2003, a nearly even (though slightly reversed split) in 2002, and a pronounced reverse split in 2004. I'm not sure what all of this tells us about these pitchers, or about the nature of pitcher splits in general. What I do know, lacking access to splits between 1992 and 2002, is that Stanton has a history of reverse splits. There is a chance that Rodriguez has the same. If so, he could turn out to be that top dog that Torre should use against lefties, as he has had periods of dominance in his career, most recently his 23-game stay with the Phillies to close out 2004 (though he also has a reputation for folding in tough spots). The rub here is that Rodriguez also has a tendency to walk too many men (nearly 4/9IP on his career), and the Yankees have had just about enough of supposed lefty-killers named Felix who walk too many men.

Minor Leaguers

Alex Graman was first added to the Yankees 40-man roster following the 2001 season, which means that his three option years (2002-2004) have elapsed and Graman will have to clear waivers in order for the Yankees to send him down to the minors. Now 27 years old, Graman seems to have stalled out as a solid AAA pitcher, having thrown batting practice in his only two major league starts (31 batters faced, 14 hits), both coming in 2004. Failing to give Graman one last chance to right his major league record before reaching this point was one of the laundry list of errors the Yankees made in September in terms of alotting playing time. Expect Graman to be claimed by another team in late March.

Sean Henn the 23-year-old Henn performed modestly in his first season at double-A in 2004. Expect him to return there in April.


Danny Borrell Borrell was a top Yankee prospect until a shoulder ligament tear in mid-2003 derailed his progress. He made just six starts last year, four excellent ones in rookie ball and a pair of stinkers in A-ball. Now 26 years old, Borrell would seem to need to spend this season getting his career back on track in the minors, but if he's able to regain most of his old form, could reemerge as a useful lefty reliever in 2006.

Buddy Groom considering the lefty options we've already covered, Buddy Groom counts as a solid pick-up for the Yanks, particularly as they managed to reel him in as an NRI. Groom will turn 40 in July and has pitched in a minimum of 60 games in each of the last nine seasons, averaging less than an inning per game in the last eight. A classic LOOGY who seems to stick wherever he lands (spending a minimum of four years with three of those four teams he's played for in his career), Groom is reminiscent of Jesse Orosco (who also finished his 30s in an Oriole uniform--his fifth). The problem is, Groom isn't nearly the pitcher that Orosco was, and actually got lit up by lefties in 2004. Then again, he's had the best control of his career over the past four years and was absolutely lights out in 2002. He may not stick, but he's precisely the kind of NRI gamble the Yankees should be taking considering their continually dire LOOGY situation.

As for the sort of NRI gambles that likely aren't worth it, here are the righties:

Brad Voyles this 28-year-old righty reliever is carrying a quadruple-A tag, having failed to break through with the pitching-starved Royals over the past four seasons. A high-K/high-BB guy, I can't see how he is not made obsolete by the presence of Prinz and Proctor, both of whom faired better last year than Voyles ever has at the major league level.

Aaron Small the 33-year-old journeyman has been bouncing between AAA and the majors since 1994 with nine organizations, a few of them twice. Other than a solid AAA showing in 2001, he hasn't pitched particularly well at either level since impressing at AAA as a 23-year old a decade ago.

Marc Valdes another 33-year-old, Valdes has spent the past three seasons in Japan and never really established himself in the majors prior to that.

In summary, don't be surprised if the Yankees pull the emergency lever on Buddy Groom after opposing lefties get a few key hits of Stanton and a few key walks against Rodriguez. As for the rest, bid farewell to Graman, keep your eye on Borrell's recovery, and forget about the rest.

posted by Cliff at 1:06 AM

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